Vote Notes: H.R. 187, Food Aid for South Sudan
Apr 27, 2017
If you get a gift card at Walmart, the question is not whether you will spend the money...but how best to spend it. Such was the case earlier this week as we voted on H.Res. 187, a resolution that would direct the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to send more robust food assistance to the nation of South Sudan.
As tragic as circumstances are there, I would have voted no if this bill were about the appropriation of new money. This was not the case; this bill was about directing money already committed to be spent in the food aid account. Given the humanitarian needs there versus other parts of the world, I voted yes, and the resolution passed on Tuesday by a vote of 411 to 2.
Nearly $2 billion is sent every year in foreign food aid to countries around the world. As helpful as we would like those actions to be, tragically in many cases, the best of intentions ends in muddled results - or even works against helping those most in need. In short, humanitarian aid in some cases doesn't end where we want it to or helps to keep in power some who have created or added to the crisis at hand.
For example, in Zimbabwe, where just last year the U.S. sent $66.5 million in aid, over ninety percent of the country’s national budget goes to public sector salaries, leaving few resources for investment in infrastructure or public health. The dictator there, Robert Mugabe - a man who spent nearly $1 million on his own birthday party in a country where one-third of the children are stunted due to hunger - has essentially been given free reign to sidetrack U.S. aid to his own pockets. He is the fourth longest serving dictator in the world.
In Nigeria, where we sent $155 million last year, rampant government corruption caused by the rise of the Boko Haram Islamic extremist group accounted for millions of dollars in stolen humanitarian food aid. I could go on, but the point is that foreign assistance to Africa will oftentimes have serious and unintended consequences.
The famine in South Sudan is not a result of drought but rather armed conflict. After a political crisis sparked violence in the capital in 2013, thousands have been killed and millions of people have had to flee from their homes in just three years. The government of Sudan has agreed to open a humanitarian aid corridor through South Sudan that will reduce opportunities for the warring ethnic factions to steal U.S. aid. And when those affected by this conflict flee to the relative safety of the United States and United Nations aid corridors, I think this aid vote represents the best of the available bad choices in helping people in need in both this conflict and in the allocation of the food aid account.